Bowling, Karaoke, Drunk Strippers and Weed: Out All Night With the Band Nico Vega
Rich Koehler (Left), Aja Volkman, Dan Epand, Jamila Weaver (Right)
[Editor's note: Soon-to-be-award-winning gonzo music journalist Danielle Bacher prowls the late late night scene for West Coast Sound. For this installment, she hit the town with Nico Vega, the prolific and talented LA alt-rock band you might know from their collaborations with hitmaker Linda Perry, tours with Neon Trees, Manic Street Preachers and Blondie and various video game and movie soundtracks. They blew off some steam after a breakneck touring and recording schedule including an EP and a full-length album due within four months of each other this year.]
7:43 p.m.: "Did you get searched when you walked in?" Nico Vega bassist Jamila Weaver asks me as I enter Shatto 39 Lanes bowling alley in Koreatown. She folds her arms and looks at me with round, sheepish eyes. "I was about to get searched, so I ran to my car to put back my whiskey." She touches her hair. It's mohawked with buzzed sides and a maroon tint on top. Drummer Dan Epand chuckles at her confession. He sips a Blue Moon and asks if we need drinks.
7:48 p.m.: We order two beers at the bar.
See also: Ghost Hunting With Meg Myers
Jamila (Left), Aja, Dan, Rich (Right)
7:49 p.m.: Lead singer Aja Volkman and guitarist Rich Koehler arrive. She smiles and introduces herself. I notice that she's really skinny for having just given birth to daughter Arrow Eve Reynolds less than six months ago.
7:51 p.m.: Arrow's father is her husband, Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynolds. He would have been here with us tonight, but he had touring commitments. Ava sports a blue- and white-striped hooded jacket and tight black pants. She smiles and gives me a large hug.
7:52 p.m.: Rich has a Southern-inflected accent and odd vocal cadence, so it's surprising to learn he's from Toledo, OH. He rocks a gray V-neck under a denim vest and black jacket, and his chest hair is exposed. He looks like he is auditioning to replace Jam Master Jay in Run-DMC.
7:53 p.m.: The group is a motley crew, but an endearing one. "We're all different people, but we are similar deep down in our belief systems, you know?" Aja says. "There is a unified thing at the base of everything we do." The original trio of Aja, Dan and Rich formed in LA in 2005, and they have been making noisy, brash modern rock ever since. Jamila joined last year. Aja wanted another female in the band, and they all wanted a bassist for big venues. "We're really lucky we are fun, positive people. It works really well when we are on the road," says Aja. Their sophomore album We Are Art is coming out in June.
7:54 p.m.: The album reflects the major personal changes the members have gone through in the past few years. "It's made us a lot stronger," says Aja. "One of the songs on the record is even about me struggling with vocal issues I've had in the past and lyrics about my childhood. It's just very personal, and it's some of the best stuff we've done. It's a very emotional contribution."
7:55 p.m.: Dan directs most of the band's videos. He thinks that it makes sense to create the song and then the visuals. They're excited to release "Beast" the first week in February. The song has appeared in the video game Bioshock Infinite and the trailer for Tom Cruise's film Jack Reacher. They also have a new EP, Fury Oh Fury, due February 5.
7:56 p.m.: We walk over to a coffee vending machine that looks like it's at least two decades old. You can even add "whitener" if you would like. We all think it's racist innuendo, and we dare Rich to order one and drink it. Aja films the event, and Rich and Dan make a fake commercial hyping the disgusting-ass coffee. Dan thinks Rich is "overacting."
7:59 p.m.: We look for some balls to bowl with. Aja, Jamila and I decide to use the same eight-pound ball with medium finger holes. Aja picks up a 14-pound ball. I tell her it's heavy as shit.
"You think this is heavy? Really?" She thinks I'm a wimp, or at least I think she thinks so.
"Can you put your finger in the holes?" says Aja
"I think the holes are too small."
"Don't mind me, I'm just touching your balls."
7:59 p.m.: Aja is up first to bowl. She's wearing a size 7 ½ shoe, but she looks like she has little kids' feet. Rich jokingly notes, "Of course Aja goes first. She's the selfish lead singer." The ball starts straight down the middle, but curves right. She knocks down six pins. Not terrible.
8:05 p.m.: We stare at a tall man next to our lane who throws a big hook that teeters on the edge of the right gutter. He's eight frames into his set, and it looks like he's taking a beating. His kid is sporting a Puma jump suit and keeps looking over to our lane and smiling. Aja chats with him for a minute.
Rich Koehler Bowling
8:08 p.m.: Dan bowls and knocks down three more pins than Aja. Rich makes a strike on his first ball, and we are all impressed. He bends deeply at the waist and lifts his back leg like a speed skater. I take my turn and knock down eight pins, but I realize I'm pretty fucking bad. Jamila scores a nine. The balls take forever to roll back.
8:09 p.m.: We cheer with our Blue Moons in celebration of our awesome first frame.
8:13 p.m.: The band tells me that they got stuck in an elevator for two hours about three years ago in a Holiday Inn in Texas and filmed the entire thing. It was one of the best/worst experiences they ever had.
8:16 p.m.: Aja asks if Taylor Swift is playing through the speakers. We talk about why Taylor Swift is such a huge star. Jamilia thinks we are talking about her being fat. Dan jokingly says that she needs to be a lot skinnier and that he only likes skinny chicks with their bones sticking out. Jamila responds by saying that she "loves when girls throw up their food."
8:18 p.m.: Aja scores a strike! We are super stoked. "Part of the fun of bowling is to people watch. Do you think all the people over there are related?" she asks. FYI: The people to the right of us are all different ages and have really bad taste in fashion. Most are wearing sweatshirts and washed-out jeans.
"I bet they are all in some sort of retail. They look like that kind of people," Jamila responds.
8:28 p.m.: Rich asks if anyone knows how to dance Gangnam Style. We are at the final frame of our game. Aja attempts to dance in front of everyone. She's pretty good. We aren't paying attention, and Dan bowls for Aja and gets a strike. Rich bowls her second turn. We realize that it was Aja's last frame. Rich comments, "Story of my life. All the credit goes to Aja."
Dan Epand Bowling
8:33 p.m.: Jamila bowls her turn and gets a gutterball. She still crushes everyone with a score of 106. I get second-to-last place with a 68. I am happy until a better bowler informs me that this is, in fact, a terrible performance. Dan loses. Aja asks "Isn't it a little creepy to think about how many people's feet actually went into these shoes?"
"Is it still hot in those shoes?" Rich asks, laughing.
"My shoes are sweaty. So gross."
8:34 p.m.: Check out our game score:
8:52 p.m.: Jamila and I go to the bathroom. We return to find everyone else gone. She turns to me and says wryly, "Story of my life. I get left a lot."
8:54 p.m.: I'm walking in the freezing cold to my car. I drive to Soop Sok Karaoke on W. 3rd St.
9:10 p.m.: Aja went home for a minute to breastfeed her baby. I head to Room 2, which is small, dark and sparse. There are tambourines on the table that turn red when you shake them. Dan sips on a Hite beer.
9:12 p.m.: Dan clutches the tambourine and sips his beer. He claims that he can sing "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing really well. In fact, he maintains that he can "crush" the low part of the song and was asked to re-record the original.
9:13 p.m.: He's joking.
9:15 p.m.: I'm joined by Dan's wife Cameron and Rich's girlfriend Sarah aka DJ Lola Langusta and their friends. Rich says, "Babies are born when I hit that note." The entire room starts singing the song a capella. This moment reminds me of the scene in My Best Friend's Wedding when the entire room starts singing "I Say a Little Prayer." Rich comments that everyone is now pregnant. He takes a sip of his Jack and Coke.
9:18 p.m.: Aja sings Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady." She raps decently, but laughs through the majority of the song.
9:24 p.m.: Dan and Aja sing the Beatles' "Come Together." Aja provides the background vocals. I realize that singing karaoke with a group of talented musicians is actually cool.
9:45 p.m.: Dan picks a song for Aja. She sings the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." She's fucking incredible. Her voice is soulful and strong, and she hits every high note on point.
Dan (Left) Rich (Right)
9:57 p.m.: Dan picks a song for Rich. It's Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll."
"I hate this song," Rich says.
Rich (Left) Aja (Right)
9:59 p.m.: We switch the song to Starship's "We Built This City." Rich gets excited and puts one foot on the table. His crotch is in my face as he moves seductively.
Halfway through the song Rich stops and asks, "Who the hell is Marconi?"
10:05 p.m.: Aja decides to do a solo. A perfect pick: Bette Midler's great ballad "Wind Beneath My Wings." "This is for all the ladies," she declares. Her voice is heavenly. I almost shed a tear.
10:11 p.m.: The entire group wants me to sing. I have the worst voice ever. I'm a good sport and sing Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." I didn't pick the song, but I sing it with one of their friends. After the horrible rendition on my part, Cameron tells me that I have a really good voice. Lies!
10:16 p.m.: Jamila and Sarah duet "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" again. Jamila sings in a deep voice the entire song.
10:25 p.m.: Aja picks Rihanna's "Umbrella." Even though she has a great voice, I fucking hate this track. Jamila is playing the tambourine and a little air guitar.
10:31 p.m.: We play Radiohead's "Creep." This is the best rendition I have ever heard. Aja and Dan sing together. Aja decides to make up her own lyrics.
10:40 pm.: We sing "Single Ladies." Rich immediately comments, "Ugh, oh God."
10:55 p.m.: Aja and her friend sing Beyonce's "Halo." They are both extremely talented. Cameron turns to me and says, "You should go tickle Aja. She's too good right now. I can't even hum this song, let alone sing it."
11:00 p.m.: The band asks me to pick who won the singing competition. It's readily apparent.
"How are you going to tour with a newborn?" I ask Aja.
"Oh, she's coming along. She's going to do it. I don't know. We're touring with my husband's band. I will let you know how the experience goes afterward. I'm definitely nervous, but I love being with her, so it's going to be fun."
"The baby is already used to it because Aja toured up until when she was seven months pregnant," says Rich.
"Yeah, she loves music," says Aja. "It was a really awesome experience."
"How the hell do you look so good? What the fuck?" I ask.
"You're so sweet."
11:10 p.m.: I ask Aja if it's hard working and touring with her husband. "We inspire each other. He's an incredible frontman. We learn a lot from each other musically." She pauses a moment and continues, "He's learned a lot from me as a performer, and I've learned a lot from him as a songwriter."
11:25 p.m.: The band tells me a story about filming on the side of the road a few years ago when they were on tour. There was a large fire, and it made for a cool backdrop. I ask if anyone got hurt in the fire. The band says they filmed while people were dying in the background. (Kidding). Aja said the video sucked because she looked at the camera the entire time.
11:28 p.m.: Aja needs to get back to her baby. We head to the bathroom before we leave. She starts telling me that she cut her bangs, and they look like shit. We talk about Sinead O'Connor and how crazy she is. Aja starts singing "Nothing Compares 2 U." Jamila and I are on the toilet and start singing along.
11:32 p.m.: We are all singing in the bathroom. Loudly.
11:34 p.m.: All of us head out. Aja gives me a hug and walks to her car. We take a group photo outside the karaoke spot. Here it is:
11:46 p.m.: I'm heading to The Pikey on Sunset Blvd. to watch Rich's DJ set that he does every Thursday in the back room.
11:54 p.m.: The bouncer questions my ID and asks me key facts on my license. He says that I don't look 21. I can't tell if he's fucking with me or not.
11:56 p.m.: The lights are low, and a Rolling Stones song is playing so loudly I can barely hear myself think. Dan is drinking a Hitachino Nest White Ale. When I arrive, he offers me some brussels sprouts. I learned that Dan eats healthy around his girlfriend Cam. I don't think she knew it had bacon in it.
12:10 a.m.: The turntables aren't working. Sarah is trying to fix them. She's been a DJ for two years and spins at the Hudson. Jamila is shining her cell for light. Rich is downing his Jack and Coke. There is a guy in a neck brace at the bar hitting on two hot women. I don't think he's getting laid this evening.
12:19 a.m.: We finally get the turntable to work. Rich plays the Stooges' "Loose." A guy sitting at a table asks them to turn down the music because it's too loud.
12:22 a.m.: Rich plays a song by Funkadelic.
12:29 a.m.: He plays Gary Numan and Tubeway Army's "Films."
12:40 a.m.: Rich downs the last of his beverage and claims, "This is the weakest set ever." He ends with Spacemen 3's "Rollercoaster." No one in the room even notices that he stopped DJ'ing.
12:35 a.m.: Sarah asks me if I want to go to a strip club. We decide to hit up Jumbo's Clown Room on Hollywood Blvd.
12:54 a.m.: The bouncer at the door asks why I carry a notebook to a go-go bar. He wonders if I'm taking notes on how to be a dancer. I tell him that I'm hoping to be just like Courtney Love, (since she used to dance here before she was a rock star). He laughs.
12:56 a.m.: This place reminds me of something out of a shitty porn set, but the girls don't show enough tits or ass. There is a girl currently flipping around on a pole over and over and over. I think she may puke on the douchebag in the front row throwing her dollars with his mouth agape. She shakes her ass multiple times to Radiohead and touches her breasts with her left index finger.
1:10 a.m.: A Danzig song plays over the speaker. Rich says, "All his songs sound the same." He orders another Jack and Coke. He explains that Jack is the gasoline that fuels all his shows. Rich tells him that he doesn't want to end up looking like Val Kilmer and shit. "Be careful with that whiskey," he says. He's actually drinking Jack, too.
1:13 a.m.: The Beatles' "Hello Goodbye" comes on. A beautiful blonde with long hair, a black thong and a black bra walks out. Rich says, "I love her hair. I love the way girls' hair smells."
1:15 a.m.: Martin, a guitarist for Macy Gray, shows up, here for some girl's birthday party, I think. The owner of the Hudson is here with his several hot girlfriends.
1:17 a.m.: A girl in a Britney Spears-inspired costume is spreading her legs very far apart. I didn't go to Catholic school, but I know those skirts were definitely never THAT short. Her ass is large, and she's not a very good dancer. The men seem to like her though.
1:22 a.m.: A sassy girl with black hair turns to our huddle and shouts, "What, do you guys have a Groupon or something?" That pisses off the majority of the dudes who are there. One drunk guy in particular starts getting heated. I turn to Cam and say, "Wow, that girl is a bitch. Who tells people off and then expects to get paid? Idiot." The security guard overhears me and came over.
"You know she's actually not a bitch," he says.
"Yeah, I mean, I don't know her. I just thought she was acting like one."
"Well, we don't pay them checks. The only money they make is on tips. If you aren't tipping them, they get pissed. I don't know what the hell you are writing about, but she's a very nice person."
1:28 a.m.: I talk to a hot nerdy girl with black glasses in the bathroom. She tells me that she can't see me even when she opens her eyes. She's drinking some healthy seeded smoothie. I'm not quite sure if it has alcohol in it, but she's shitfaced.
1:30 a.m.: She tells me that she's a hustler, and that she hustles people with her nerdiness. She likes when men think she is smart, and she apologizes for being really drunk and hitting on me. She opens the door for me, and I walk out of the bathroom.
1:44 a.m.: A beautiful Asian girl with long hair walks out. She starts humping the mirror behind her. This girl looks like she could grace the cover of any magazine. She's dancing to the Doors' "The Spy."
1:48 a.m.: The nerdy girl goes back on stage as the last performer of the evening. She shakes her ass in front of me and winks. She has a large tattoo on the back of her neck and two small ones near her crotch.
1:53 a.m.: Dan and Cam are hardcore making out. Jamila is being hit on by a lesbian. She asks me to walk her outside.
1:58 a.m.: "Have you been with a girl before?" Cam asks me. Before I can answer, Jamila turns to me and says, "Thanks for saving me from that lesbian. Everyone thinks I am gay."
2:05 a.m.: It's fucking freezing outside. A dude named Thomas comes over and asks if Jamila would be interested in spending an evening with the lesbian who hit on her. She's wearing a long, blue button-downed shirt and jeans. She keeps staring at Jamila.
"I really like kissing women," Cam says. "They have soft lips."
2:07 a.m.: "We're pretending to be Kiefer Sutherland's Danish friends for the night. I really am Danish, though," says Thomas. He turns to Jamila. "Sorry you're not a lesbian. Well, actually, I'm not. Am I hitting on you right now?"
"I don't know?"
"I did try to organize a lesbian situation. I don't actually even know her."
2:10 a.m.: I walk to my car. Everyone is hungry. I can still see Jamila talking with the Danish guy from my rearview mirror.
2:19 a.m.: I arrive at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd. and walk into 25 Degrees. We're with a large group of people. I don't know half of them. Dan, Cam, Sarah and Rich are here. Jamila is MIA. Rich thinks it's funny if she ends up getting a DUI.
2:27 a.m.: We are dancing around the restaurant. Van Morrison is playing. We agree that there should be a Shazam app for people and movies.
2:45 a.m.: Jamila shows up. We all wonder what she was doing while she was separated from us.
2:50 a.m.: Rich is dancing wildly to "Hey Jude" by the Beatles. He comments that the bun glistens on his delicious, massive bacon burger. I take a bite of his burger. He can see his reflection in it. "Where can I get a drink?" he asks. "I want more alcohol."
3:00 a.m.: I'm eating a beet salad. It's an orgasm in my mouth. Cam orders a kale salad for Dan to share. He looks at the burger desperately, fighting the urge to eat it.
3:10 a.m.: Cam and Dan hug and kiss everyone goodbye. I think I saw Cam kiss a bunch of her male friends on the lips. This strikes me as a very intimate gesture.
3:13 a.m.: IT'S FUCKING FREEZING OUT HERE. The wind is blowing so hard. We are running to my car. I can't find my keys. FUCK. It's seriously like a wind tunnel.
3:30 a.m.: I crank up the heat on full blast. I'm driving Sarah and Rich back to their crib. They live next to each other near Formosa and Fountain. We talk about strip clubs in L.A.
3:32 a.m.: Rich discusses how Courtney Love is a hot mess.
Sarah (Left) Rich (Right)
3:35 a.m.: We park the car, and I walk into Sarah's apartment. It's super cool. You can tell this girl is a true artist. She has a place to cut hair, jewelry that she made displayed on the wall and all her little arts and crafts projects. Rich is playing me rapper Danny Brown. It's pretty good.
3:45 a.m.: Rich opens up a bottle of weed and shows me how great it looks. He says it's a hybrid of half-indoor and half-outdoor weed. I look at some of Sarah's artwork.
4:00 a.m.: We talk about what it's like being on the road and why music is such a beautiful art.
4:20 a.m.: I head home and undress before bed.
6:20 a.m.: I wake up panicked in the middle of the night. I had a dream that I was freefalling down an elevator shaft while a stripper was chasing me. I turn over to my side and see my black Ray-Ban glasses lying next to my pillow. They are identical to the pair the go-go dancer was wearing. Weird.
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